As we continue the SAW Publishing behind-the-scenes tour of Adelaide’s Orphans, we come to the site which had the most obvious impact on the novel’s development. The forbidding walls of Highbank Castle, and its eccentric owner who can be both amusing and melancholy, play the most significant role of all the real-life scenes which have been incorporated into the book.
If you look for Highbank Castle on a map, you will not be able to locate it, because the name and a few details have been changed for the convenience of fiction. But the great, gloomy old fortress, which seems to have been asleep for decades when Adelaide first sets foot in its massive stone court, nonetheless exists. I had the amazing experience of staying at it for almost a week, and experiencing firsthand the world in which Lady Bradstock lived for so many years. She herself is very decidedly the product of fiction, but her ancestral home has its roots in a real, existing place.
“Highbank Castle” has very much the feel of a medieval fortress. It gives one the impression of having been built more for strength than comfort. The modern restoration, which has included the introduction of guest suites available to the public, has still left the air of a rugged border castle. The stone walls are still exposed in many parts of the interior, and yes, there is something of the musty gloom which made the Adelaide of my story try to imagine what the castle might be like if everything were fresh and cheerful. In fact, I may say that the entire Highbank part of the book grew out of this idea. The very first night, I found myself lying in my narrow little bed, in the tiny room with a curtain for a door which you will recognise in the novel. I couldn’t help thinking how much it was a place for a story—and a story like Adelaide’s Orphans. A story which wasn’t content to leave that dismal old place to itself. A story which cared about the place, and its owner, and which could not rest until it had investigated, just a little, what brightness and kindness might do.
One of the delights of using a real place as the foundation for Highbank Castle was that I was able to glean all the little details which bring real places to life. The old clock, which is only slightly exaggerated by the comment that it has stood since Galileo discovered the pendulum, really does exist. The castle steward does have to climb up to the top of its tower every other day, because it loses a full minute in that span.
The secret passage on which so many rumors centred, has also its factual connexion. “Highbank’s” present owner did discover a door leading into a tunnel while restoring the building, but when he attempted to enter it, the passage began to collapse, and he was forced to evacuated it without following out its course. To this day, it remains a mystery whether or not the old legend is true that it connects “Highbank” with a nearby tower. By changing this legend slightly, I have drawn the De Fontes’ Pele Tower into the question as well. But whether Adelaide and her orphans have any more light to throw on the subject will have to wait until the book itself is released!
In justice to the real “Highbank,” I must admit that Lady Bradstock’s blue drawing room, and her host of ancestral portraits, were the product of my imagination, and in fact would hardly have survived the ruin into which the building fell before it was restored by its current owner. But the neatly-trimmed Italian Gardens still stand within their protective wall. The grey court, with its grey walls, and its grey cobbles, and its grey stone staircase is still there, looking as if the whole place were still asleep. The real “Highbank Castle” is the castle at the beginning, not the end, of my story. It is still waiting for someone to brush away the gloom and the quiet—still waiting for some bright, childish voice to bring life and hope, and to awaken it to the glorious future it has the potential to fulfil.